Mount Rainier National Park, WA
Evan Escamilla, Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI), ‘09
My internship with SCA began serendipitously. As a recent business and Spanish graduate I felt somehow left behind during tough economic times, as many of my classmates were moving on to begin their careers. I found myself standing in front of an SCA recruiter who offered me a chance to gain life experience at a time when every other recruiter was rejecting me for a lack of work experience. Impulsively I accepted a position that led me on a road trip across the country from Michigan to Mount Rainier National Park …
After nearly six months at Mount Rainier, I can look back to overnight trips to fire lookouts and hikes into the backcountry with friends and sometimes by myself. I challenged myself both mentally and physically, most notably when I reached the summit of Mount Rainier with two others after climbing for nearly 24 hours over two days. During those months filled with adventure, learning, and fond memories, I received both gratitude and respect from politicians, volunteers, and visitors alike for my work promoting and protecting our national parks. As a coordinator of volunteers at Mount Rainier National Park, I saw many of the park’s programs firsthand, including the rerouting of the Glacier Basin Trail, and came to appreciate the vital roles volunteers play: In the 2010 season, 1,900 volunteers contributed 75,000 hours of service to the park.
In numerous retellings of climbing Mount Rainier across its glaciers and their crevasses, I was surprised to find myself barely mentioning the moment when I stood on the summit. Instead, I spoke of the mental and emotional challenge; of the breathtaking views at that altitude; and of the bears, mountain goats, ice fields, endless meadows of wildﬂowers, and pristine mountain lakes in the high country. Perhaps for the first time I began to believe that there may be some truth to the saying, “It’s not the destination but the journey that really matters.”
During my first two months I endured tantalizing lessons in patience when I took long hikes up to a viewpoint blanketed in a thick heavy cloud completely blocking my view of the iconic mountain. Out of necessity I began to learn the names of trees and ﬂowers. By focusing on my peaceful surroundings, I often found my mind wandering to intimate thoughts coming to me clearly and without distractions from external inﬂuences.
The passage of time in a national park like Mount Rainier is measured differently from the time in our instant culture. The rocks forming the mountains have been in place for thousands and sometimes millions of years; there are places where you can walk among living cedar and fir trees over a thousand years old, and even bear grass takes five to seven years to produce its ﬂower. In an environment where resources are scarce, competition is high, and progress is slow, it can be hard to ignore the similarities to life after college. Indeed, the only real chance any living thing has at achieving success is by benefiting from their neighbors through symbiotic relationships.
If in truth the “journey” is more important than the “destination,” then I take great comfort in knowing that my SCA internship at Mount Rainier has marked the first steps towards my journey on the path less traveled with the destination unknown.